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Meeting the worm community

Posted by , on 1 July 2011

Last week I attended the 18th international C. elegans meeting at UCLA, organised by the Genetics Society of America. Having done most of my scientific training with mammalian cell culture, I had never been to an organism-specific meeting – let alone one about worms – and I was curious to find out what it would be like. I also wanted to learn more about the sense of community that exists among worm researchers, and what better way to experience that than by visiting their conference.

After the first day of talks, I had already spotted the community spirit in the presentation acknowledgements. The speaking slots were 12 minutes – 10 minutes to present, 2 for questions. That’s not exactly a lot of time to dwell on thanking everyone at the end, but they all did. In particular, almost everyone thanked the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center (CGC) for strains. However, in one of the opening talks of the meeting, Aric Daul of the CGC showed that people do tend to forgot to credit the centre in their publications. Since publication acknowledgements are a metric to ensure their continued funding, he urged people to not just thank the CGC in their talks, but also in their articles.

But nowhere was the community spirit of the worm people more obvious than in the social events. First of all, there were so many of them. I didn’t even manage to attend them all, but even after skipping two post-poster session socials, I still made it to the barbecue dinner, the Worm Art Show, the Worm Comedy Show, and the closing party. The party was unlike any conference party I had ever been to. Instead of the usual small wooden floor in a brightly lit dining hall, the worm party involved a huge ballroom, disco lights, and a packed dancefloor. Earlier that evening, the Worm Comedy Show, with Morris Maduro and Curtis Loer, had everyone laughing along at “The Lab” (a parody of the comedy “The Office”) and fake advertisements full of geeky humour (“UGG Tryptophane Boots”), and even singing along to “This Worm is My Worm”. The comedy show came just after the announcements of the Worm Art Show awards, but I’ll feature those in a separate post to highlight some of the art work.

There was science, too, of course. I attended most of the developmental biology sessions, but there were often two interesting talks at the same time. Still, thanks to modern technology you don’t have to miss a thing anymore: The meeting organisers encouraged people to use Twitter to share the meeting, and through there I could often see a glimpse of one of the parallel sessions. In fact, thanks to people eagerly tweeting bits of the meeting, I’ve managed to create a collaborative impression of the conference using Storify. See below to see the C. elegans conference through the eyes of Twitter users. (Make sure to click “load more” at the bottom. If nothing shows up below this paragraph, refresh the page. I’m new at using Storify so haven’t figured out if there’s a way to make it smaller on screen.)

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